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Written by Nell Walker

Produced by Craig Daniels

We speak with Teoman Buyan, Global CIO at S. M. Jaleel & Company, about how the right company culture can make all the difference during a technology transformation.

S. M. Jaleel & Company (SMJ) is a different breed of business. It's almost a century old, it's the largest non-alcoholic drinks manufacturer in the English-speaking Caribbean, and it distributes its beverages to over 60 countries around the world—and yet it has retained its community-focused, collaborative, flexible way of conducting business. A lot of this is thanks to the type of people SMJ has on its team: enter Teoman Buyan, Global CIO.

Buyan is an engineer by education. He's worked for Caterpillar, Sony, Microsoft—some of the largest organisations in the world. The latter company saw him working more with software and honing his technological expertise, until he eventually took on a CIO role. Buyan became something of a guru in emerging markets within Microsoft, and he took that knowledge to his next role with Coca-Cola.

Eventually, working for such a large business stopped providing the professional satisfaction Buyan wanted, and a role with SMJ came at exactly the right time. “They said, ‘We’d like to utilise your skills',” he recalls—particularly the expertise he gained with Coca-Cola. “'We want your knowledge of the consumer goods industry - tell us how to do things right!' The culture really attracted me and knowing that Id be a valued leader for a growing beverage company.”

The Transformation

We chose Epicor Kinetic because Epicor is a visionary ERP company. Plus, one of the advantages of choosing the right technology partner is that you can go with their roadmap, and Epicor had a tech roadmap that we liked.

For Buyan, the changes that needed to be made were apparent very early on. He made an immediate diagnosis of where SMJ was, where it wanted to be, and where the challenges were. There was certainly a gulf between where SMJ was and where it wanted to be—and that gulf could only really be bridged by the technology solutions Buyan had the knowledge and the power to implement.

“SMJ wanted to be an international player in the beverages space, and it needed some foundational technology to achieve that,” he explains. “That's where enterprise retail planning (ERP) came in. It plans everything like an SAP system, and we chose Epicor Kinetic for that because Epicor is a visionary ERP company. Plus, one of the advantages of choosing the right technology partner is that you can go with their roadmap, and Epicor had a tech roadmap that we liked. Kinetic is very powerful and synchronises everything, giving us seamless integration and full visibility. That made Epicor's solution instrumental in SMJ's vision for the future, long-term.”

Improving cybersecurity was also a priority. Not only has this area become an increasingly intense focus for many organisations in recent years, but SMJ itself was hacked in 2019. While the business got away without paying a huge ransom, it was enough to disrupt business and worry the team. And so, that was an area they wanted Buyan to pay attention to right from the beginning.

“There was never a cybersecurity assessment done,” Buyan states. “So, we ran two surveys with a third party—one cybersecurity maturity level assessment, and one on cybersecurity insurance. Cybersecurity was of great interest to the SMJ board; they said, ‘Teoman, come and tell us what to do!'. When someone has that trust in me that I'm knowledgeable and experienced enough, as a professional, to help them with what they need, that's really motivating.”

An Agile Business

Buyan has also found a great deal of comfort in the fact that nobody challenges him in a negative way by implying they know more than him about his own area of expertise, as sometimes happens in business. Instead, his colleagues come to him for solutions and offer their own suggestions, but ultimately, they know why he's there and that he understands the needs of a business like SMJ inside and out.

“They're hungry for knowledge and to improve their operations,” he says. SMJ is a business that doesn't just want to do what every one of its competitors is doing—it wants the long-term value an expert like Buyan can offer. And, due to its eagerness to improve, it's able to be as flexible as is necessary for positive change. So how has that flexibility manifested during this technology transformation?

“It's the decision-making process,” says Buyan. “When leaders try to make a major decision, sometimes the process is quite long; ‘Okay, I see your point—here are my reservations, here are some other challenges, let's hear everyone's voice and have a forum'. That's a great starting point, but it can drag the process out for a long time. Some companies are consensus-based, some are majority-based, some are common sense-based—SMJ is common sense-based. They say, ‘We don't have this today, but you're able to deliver it, so let's make a quick decision'. They're also not averse to taking calculated risks, because the only way you can catch up to competition is to act fast.”

Culturally, SMJ also has the advantage of being completely open to viewpoints from all over the world. The Trinidad-based business doesn't have a protected vision—it's keen to change however it needs to to capture global attention for the sake of being an influential, international business leader. “They were so open to hearing from a Turkish American immigrant like myself,” says Buyan.

A Business Development Focus

SMJ is on board with Buyan's vision that technology transformation should always have a business development focus. Without this, an organization is simply implementing the latest tech without a specific drive or goal. What Buyan aims to do is make deep, value-level changes that will benefit the business for years to come.

With the help of Epicor, we're abandoning SMJ's legacy systems in favour of new, modern IT. It's a challenging transformation because people have historically done a lot of work on paper, making data collection slow and not up-to-date, but with new barcodes, labels, scanners, and tablets, we've been able to speed that up.

“The technology transformation always had to be coupled with the cultural transformation,” he explains. “All companies have their own way of doing things; there's an established culture within any business. At SMJ, it was never just about adopting new technology, but having an intent to change the old ways of doing things. With the help of Epicor, we're abandoning SMJ's legacy systems in favour of new, modern IT. It's a challenging transformation because people have historically done a lot of work on paper, making data collection slow and not up-to-date, but with new barcodes, labels, scanners, and tablets, we've been able to speed that up.”

Understandably, not everybody was on board with this major change at first. When you're used to doing things a certain way, it can be difficult to adapt, but for the most part, the SMJ team was thrilled to discover the many benefits of technology and automation. “It's so convenient,” says Buyan. “People were saying, ‘Wow, things that used to take me 10 minutes now take just one!'” And while some people needed their hands held, most were able to break their reliance on legacy systems and make positive change.

Company Culture

What helps this process is that SMJ already has a deeply collaborative culture. Buyan himself works remotely from his base in Atlanta, USA, visiting the core Caribbean team every month or so, and that works well despite his high-level role. “I travelled more frequently at the beginning so that people would get to know me, we could share our vision, and agree on what needed to be done,” he explains. “But then the work became more remote due to two things: COVID-19 and technology. The people at SMJ were already working remotely from Jamaica, Barbados, Panama, Costa Rica, and so on, and it gave me hope that I could do the same once the pandemic hit. The enablement of technology made this much easier; video conferencing is a great platform to continue remote work effectively. It's a solution that fills about 80% of the work—the other 20% is compensated by travelling to the SMJ headquarters and having face-to-face meetings whenever possible.”

Teoman Buyan | Global CIO, SMJ

Teoman Buyan is a global executive in technology with a diverse background in multiple industries and geographies, contributing to the successful transformation of companies of all sizes through digital and cultural transformations. Buyan is a highly experienced executive in manufacturing, consumer goods, information technology, and the supply chain space with productivity, digitisation, transformation, organisation design, leadership and people development, and strategic planning expertise. During his 30+ year career, Buyan has always valued the power of positive leadership and leading by example that motivates his workforce where he is achieving high performing teams around the world.

While working remotely might not be ideal, it does allow C-level executives like Buyan to flex their leadership muscles and work hard to ensure their teams are happy and on board with the company's vision. Since leadership is so important to Buyan and he's spent so much of his career honing that, a focus of his is promoting even better collaboration within SMJ and making sure each team member knows they have a voice.

“Clarity through communication and listening to people's questions is a great starting point,” Buyan says of his own leadership style. “When you share your mission, your objectives, and your goals, you ask for feedback. You develop the vision with your team.

“On top of this, I lead by example. I'm always present, I'm positive by nature so I always have a smile, and I kick off my early morning meetings with a joke. I tell a funny story that people can relate to while they're drinking their coffee and preparing for a challenging day. But the most important thing of all is having cultural intelligence.”

For Buyan, this means having an awareness of the cultures of the people he works with. Some of the Trinidad-based SMJ team have worked together for 15 years, they know each other very well. It's a small island and they're community-orientated people. Fortunately, so is Buyan—but he also has a global viewpoint.

The roadmap ahead

The future's bright for S. M. Jaleel. Many people are back in their workplaces and children are back at school, which has given the sale of non-alcoholic beverages a boost, and SMJ is fully prepared for that acceleration in business thanks to the transformation it's undergone over the last few years. “Good planning has made all the difference for us,” Buyan says.

“The worst of the pandemic is over, so that's one variable out of the way, and the supply chain is always a challenge, but good planning and investing in the future is going to be what leads our success for the next three-to-five years. There's increased demand for innovative products—plant milks and better juices—and the Caribbean has the resources to provide that. Plus, Epicor has a great forecasting tool which helps companies align resource planning, which for a manufacturing company like SMJ, is really helpful. It also makes us think about which demographics to go for next, as well as what types of products.”

Sustainability is also a focus for the immediate future. It's important in the Caribbean in general, and as a manufacturer, it's of vital interest to SMJ. The business is keen to reduce waste and energy usage and use recyclable materials where possible.

SMJ also uses smart devices that turn off lights when they're not in use and gives back to the community in big ways so that the needs of future generations aren't consumed before their time.

“SMJ is a real-life example of how you can transform when given the right opportunity,” Buyan concludes. “You can't stay in the straitjacket of what you learned 10, 20 years ago and keep applying it with no flexibility—you need to plan ahead and adapt to get good results for the current environment. The world has changed, and leaders have to change with it.”

Company Facts

  • Location: Trinidad and Tobago
  • Specialist Industry: Manufacturer of non alcoholic drinks
  • Website:


  • Lack of one single integrated system


  • Forecasting accuracy
  • Improved cybersecurity
  • Sustainability
  • Digital Transformation
  • A full integrated solution
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